Artificial sweetener (Recipe: asparagus, nectarine and tomato salad)
Some pantry ingredients make life worth living.
Others make life livable.
In the first group: chocolate, balsamic vinegar, parmigiano-reggiano.
In the second group: Fresca, fat-free yogurt, artificial sweetener.
A gourmet ingredient it is not, but in a household of dieters and diabetics, artificial sweetener is our reality.
Though I prefer natural sugar substitutes whenever possible -- I always have agave nectar and honey in my pantry, and occasionally stevia, too -- we have artificial sweetener in the cupboard, all the time, and I use it when our diabetic kids and friends come to visit.
I know what you're thinking. But, but, but....
Three artificial sweeteners approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are most familiar, recognizable by the color of the packets found on every coffee shop table: pink (saccharin, sold as Sweet 'N Low); blue (aspartame, sold as Equal); and yellow (sucralose, sold as Splenda).
To calorie counters, the "big three" are pretty much the same: 0-4 calories per teaspoon, compared with 16 per teaspoon for granulated sugar. For diabetics, the issue is the effect of sweeteners on blood sugar, and each sugar substitute, natural or artificial, causes a different reaction. (If you are diabetic, please consult your doctor or diabetes educator before adding any of these products to your diet.)
One sweetener does not fit all, nor does one sugar substitute fulfill every culinary need. Sweet 'N Low and Splenda can be used for cooking, and Splenda is best for baking, though the texture of sugar substitutes cannot replace the texture of granulated white or brown sugar, and recipes need to be adjusted.
For sauces and salad dressings, where the goal is to add a sweet flavor without adding sugar or honey or calories, artificial sweeteners can be a good choice; they dissolve well and, if used in small amounts, do not impart an artificial flavor to the food.
I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but sometimes a bit of sweetness takes the edge off an acidic dressing or tomato sauce. Honey or agave nectar will add sweetness and viscosity; artificial sweeteners add sweetness, but no texture -- and negligible calories -- and give surprisingly good results in dishes like flourless, sugar-free peanut butter cookies, low fat sugar-free sesame banana muffins, baklava, or a tiramisu parfait.
Store artificial sweeteners in the pantry indefinitely, in an airtight container.
What's your reality: artificial sweetener, natural sugar substitutes, or the real thing?
Asparagus, nectarine and tomato salad
When a diabetic friend came for dinner, I made this salad, and nobody could taste anything artificial about it. One of those dishes where proportions aren't terribly important, it combines sweet and tart fruits with something green -- in this case, asparagus, though you could use zucchini, or even a bed of spinach leaves. If you can't find pomegranate molasses, which aren't molasses at all, you can make your own. And feel free to substitute agave, honey, or even sugar for the artificial sweetener. Serves 6 as a side dish; can be halved or doubled.
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 packet artificial sweetener (or 1 tsp agave nectar or honey)
Pinch of black pepper
1 tsp orange zest
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
2 nectarines, pitted, cut into wedges
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2-3 large strawberries, trimmed, cut in half or thirds
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine pomegranate molasses, vinegar, sweetener, pepper, orange zest and olive oil. Close the jar, and shake to emulsify the dressing. Taste, and adjust seasoning.
Bring a small pot with one inch of water to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the asparagus are just slightly tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove from the pot, and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Dry the asparagus and add to a mixing bowl along with the nectarines, tomatoes and strawberries. Toss with the dressing, and serve.